Spaces for Change (S4C), Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), and Community Life Project (CLP) strongly condemn the demolition of homes and properties at Yaya Abatan to Obawole in Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos by Lagos state authorities on April 22, 2020. Nothing beats the insensitivity of conducting demolitions at the peak of the federal government-mandated lockdown in Lagos State which has been in force since March 30, 2020. The lockdown directives, involving the total cessation of all non-essential movement, ban on public gatherings, school closures and compulsory stay-at-home (SAH) for all residents, have been recommended by health experts as critical preventive measures for combating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
At a time COVID-19 is ravaging the world and Lagos residents are substantially complying with public health advisories by staying at home, the Lagos State launched demolition attacks targeted at the homes of the predominantly urban poor households, vulnerable communities and small-scale businesses without providing alternative safe spaces for the displaced. Compliance with stay-at-home orders is impossible for the 300 citizens displaced yesterday and forced into homelessness as a result of state-ordered forced evictions. Stay-at-home is only possible where people have a roof over their heads! The ill-planned displacement exercises potentially increases the risk of residents contracting and spreading COVID-19.
Recognizing that Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital is the epicentre of the COVID-19 statistics in the country, S4C, CEEHOPE and CLP regard the Ogba demolition exercise by Lagos State authorities as a public health hazard. Conducting displacement exercises during a highly contagious pandemic without more, smacks of executive insensitivity and impunity. Such action, coming at a time when the economy faces recession, due to the crippling of social and economic activities all over the world, will not only add to the economic burden here in Lagos state, but also increase unemployment and make residents even more vulnerable to environmental and health hazards.
Reports further reveal that displacement exercises have been conducted in Ifako-Ijaiye, Orile and Aguda areas leaving several residents with no homes to stay safe and self-isolate. Asides these, several incidents of fire disasters have taken place in the State e.g. Dustbin Estate; Shops 35 and 36 Maola Shopping Mall, Ebute Ero Market, Idumota, Lagos State; 16B Barrister Ahmed Street, Awodiora, Lagos where 32 other apartments razed and 93 persons were rendered homeless; the car park, Lagos Airport Hotel, 20 vehicles, among others.
The increasing homelessness in Lagos is exacerbated by the huge housing deficit in the state, which has seen two out of three residents seeking shelter in the slums. The 300 more persons rendered homeless in Ogba yesterday, including pregnant women, youth and newborn children, adds to the growing list of poor persons, pushed further into poverty in the state. The forced displacement resulting from the demolitions would gravely increase the risk of community spread of COVID-19 and make nonsense of the Lagos State Government’s efforts to contain the virus expeditiously so as to begin the process of opening up the economy.
Some spectators have suggested that these demolition exercises are targeted at averting flooding disasters because the evictees’ houses were allegedly situated too close to canals and waterways in the State. While these reasons (if well founded) are reasonable, the pertinent questions are: Why wait till the advent of the rainy season to conduct displacement exercises? What ameliorative steps have been taken to provide humanitarian support and safe spaces for all evictees and persons displaced? Why sanction a stay-at-home order (lock-down) and in the same breath render people homeless and throw them into the streets? How does such an action help with social distancing?
We urge the Lagos State government to enlist meaningful engagement protocols to protect groups affected, and to be affected by displacement exercises. Doing so will ensure access to grievance resolution, humanitarian support, resettlement and/or compensation for the affected groups. We also wish to remind Lagos State authorities that Nigeria has voluntarily subscribed to the commitments espoused in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ‘the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with e.g. physical shelter as a commodity; but rather should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.’* Implicit in this duty to respect the right to housing, is an obligation on the government to adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures required to realize the right to adequate housing for all (which includes improving housing conditions within the state) prioritizing for the most disadvantaged groups.
The three organizations therefore make the following demands on Lagos State Government:
- Create opportunities for genuine consultation with the affected people;
- Immediately provide adequate and reasonable compensation for losses; especially alternative accommodation for the affected groups, and
- Ensure that effective remedies are available to affected persons, including opportunities to seek legal redress.
- Ensure access to screening tests and medical care for all made even more vulnerable to Covid-19, due to these ill-timed displacement exercises.
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri: SPACES FOR CHANGE [S4C]
Betty Abah: Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection [CEE-HOPE]
Ngozi Iwere: Community Life Project [CLP]